Published Clips

The Ghost of the Grasshopper:
The Seagirt Saga of Two Families

A New Historical Novel by Tom Hale

Martha's Vineyard Times May 13, 1999



"I've lived on the Island since '61, but I'm strictly a newcomer." Mr. Hale moved to the Vineyard, when he purchased Martha's Vineyard Shipyard from Bob Love.

The shipyard had at one time employed more than 400 men working to fill major military boat building contracts, and spanned much of the Vineyard Haven waterfront. According to Mr. Hale, the Colby Family, which built the business to such great proportions, lost their son and likely heir when his plane was shot down over Germany during World War II. The elder Mr. Colby subsequently lost interest in the business, and it went downhill.

Mr. Love had snatched the business from the brink of extinction, but the recovery was far from complete when Tom Hale bought it in '61. "It needed a lot of work," he says.

Mr. Hale rebuilt the Shipyard to serve a clientele of mostly recreational boaters.

"It was a good life. We worked hard, made a lot of friends, and, I hope, very few enemies. We built boats in wood and in that other material," Mr. Hale says, a reference to fiberglass, a material which is anathema to a maritime traditionalist. "I was forced kicking and screaming into the 20th century."

During the 26 years of Tom Hale's tenure at the helm, the Shipyard built about 150 boats, including 53 of the popular Vineyard Vixens, a double-ended fiberglass cruising sailboat of Mr. Hale's design. He passed the torch on in 1986.

"Now, it's a first-class boatyard run by my son Phillip, who does a much better job than I did," Mr. Hale says modestly. "I just go down to complain about my yard bills. I'm not sure what the word retirement means, but I no longer run around the boatyard," he says. "I seem to be very busy, but I don't know what all I'm busy about."

Since his retirement, Mr. Hale has devoted his attention to "writing, maritime history and allied interests," and with a look at the diverse array of pursuits currently on his plate, one doesn't wonder that he is busy.

His associations are too numerous to list here, but he sits on the boards of a number of organizations devoted to maritime history, including the National Maritime Historical Association, the Nautical Research Guild, and the Martha's Vineyard Historical Society, which published The Ghost of the Grasshopper. In addition to sitting for interviews about his new book, he recently had several of his ship models in a show in Woods Hole and has shipped off his exhibit on ship's lines and half models to the Center for Wooden Boats in Seattle.

He is restoring a model for the MV Historical Society, and has nearly finished building a model of the Great Britannia. The 300ft. passenger vessel Great Britannia, which was the first propeller-driven ship to cross the Atlantic, was designed by Isumbard Kingdom Brunell, one of the "great engineers of the industrial revolution." In 1853, the Great Britainnia ran aground on Nantucket Shoals (as have many a ship before and since), and broke two blades off of her enormous propeller. While limping back to New York, she anchored for a night "between the chops" here in Vineyard Haven. By the way, the New York shipyards were unprepared to fix the newfangled prop, and the ship had to be towed back to England for the repairs.

Mr. Hale also must make time to get out on the water and to maintain his fleet of small boats. He says, "I have thoughts of another book, but I'm not prepared to say what it is."

A Coincidence of Note
Tom Hale met his wife Kelsey through a coincidence not unlike one that might be found in The Ghost of the Grasshopper.

Mr. Hale first made the acquaintance of the future Mrs. Kelsey Hale during World War II when she worked in the office of the American Field Service.

"We met briefly before I went overseas and saw each other briefly when I came back," he says.

After the tragic death of Mr. Hale's first wife soon after his retirement from Martha's Vineyard Shipyard, their paths crossed once more.

"By coincidence, 45 years later, we met again," he says. "I invited her to come to the island to rekindle the acquaintance."

Mr. Hale says that he saw something in her as she walked down the gangway from the ferry that made him want to get to know her better. They were married four months later in Bermuda at the Royal Dockyard.

"She's a lovely girl."

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